British & Irish Lions

World champion Springboks prefer 'gutters to dance floor'

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Handre Pollard. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Handre Pollard. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

As South Africa prepared to face hosts Japan in a 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-final, coach Rassie Erasmus said: "They want to take us to the dance floor and we want to take them to the gutters."

The astute tactician was referring to the free-flowing, ball-in-hand style of the Brave Blossoms and the subdue-and-suffocate methods favoured by the Springboks.

South Africa won convincingly and went on to defeat pre-match favourites England by 20 points in the final for a record-equalling third world title.

Once again the "boring Boks" had triumphed in a tournament where many other teams had played more eye-catching rugby.

The "boring Boks" debate is back in vogue this week ahead of a series-deciding third Test against the British & Irish Lions in Cape Town on Saturday.

After a narrow first Test loss two weekends ago, South Africa won the second 27-9 after a match described in one report as "an ugly spectacle dominated by brutal forward exchanges and kicking".

New Zealand coach Ian Foster said the match "put me to sleep" and former Ireland star Tony Ward lamented "the so-called best in world playing caveman rugby".

Foster expanded on his unhappiness, saying: "It has become a very tight, almost risk-free type of series. Teams are almost afraid to play, they are relying on a low-risk strategy."

Ward was equally critical, wondering "How has it come to this? A gathering of some of the greatest players to a place where match officials are more central to the outcome than those we want to see.

'Caveman tactics'

"Meanwhile, the players, pretty much to a man, revert to caveman tactics in pursuit of a plan driven by overhyped, ego-obsessed coaches."

Even Peter de Villiers, who coached the Springboks to a 2009 series victory over the Lions, joined the cascade of criticism.

"The Springboks are the world champions and we are all grateful for that. But I do not think people will copy that style of play.

"Firstly, it is very boring. Does it give you results? Definitely. But it is very, very boring," the first black coach of South Africa told the London Daily Mail.

"We suffocate people with our bulk and then we base our whole game plan around defending, defending, defending instead of creating, creating, creating."

But Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard is a staunch supporter of the system they deploy, calling it "the most beautiful thing in the world.

"It is the way we are brought up and it is the way we play and, for me, that is a thing of beauty. Throwing the ball around is nice for people watching on TV."

Quizzed about the "boring" tag, assistant coach Deon Davids responded: "When we execute stuff it is not about being boring, it is about understanding what we want to achieve.

"In doing so, we create enough opportunities to play with the ball in hand and score tries. I believe in our approach and where it leads us.

"I was not with the team then, but the same narrative was there when the Springboks won the 2019 Rugby Championship. It was the same when they won the Rugby World Cup the same year."

Saturday's clash at Cape Town Stadium kicks off at 18:00.

Teams:

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marco van Staden, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Damian Willemse

British & Irish Lions

15 Liam Williams (Wales), 14 Josh Adams (Wales), 13 Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), 12 Bundee Aki (Ireland), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), 10 Dan Biggar (Wales), 9 Ali Price (Scotland), 8 Jack Conan (Ireland), 7 Tom Curry (England), 6 Courtney Lawes (England), 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain, Wales), 4 Maro Itoje (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), 2 Ken Owens (Wales), 1 Wyn Jones (Wales)

Substitutes: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), 17 Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), 18 Kyle Sinckler (England), 19 Adam Beard (Wales), 20 Sam Simmonds (England), 21 Conor Murray (Ireland), 22 Finn Russell (Scotland), 23 Elliot Daly (England)

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